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Bronx Boy – A Novel (Part Two): Building Alliances

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

Bronx Boy – A Novel (Part Two): Building Alliances

The landlord who managed the building at Morris Avenue, Mrs. Alma Horowitz, was an elderly Jewish lady of means. Hungry for company - any company - she took an instant liking to little Sonny's mother, Mami. And Mami, in her genuinely chatty, unobtrusive manner, did her best to ingratiate herself to Mrs. Horowitz. She noticed the old lady welcomed her company. More's the better, Mami reasoned. She may not have mastered the subtleties of the English language - Mami found it impossible to pronounce Mrs. Horowitz's name - but she was an astute observer of the human condition. She referred to the old lady as "La Señora."

" La Señora survived the Holocaust," Mami once told Papi over dinner. "She lost her husband, pobresita, and most of her family members, to the concentration camp. She had a rough time of it."

"Y nosotros tambien," Papi countered. "Ella es una judia. They're used to suffering, always suffering. Well, we suffer too! But they got money, lots and lots of money. More than we do, that's for sure! They're not the only ones who get screwed in this freaking world."

"Claro que no. Al menos tenemos una aliada."

An ally... Yes, Mami was right about that. That's what they really needed: a reliable ally, someone who could look after their interests. Papi agreed with Mami's position. He did that often, but seldom let on - never overtly and never in front of the boys. Prideful as always, you see. That and an indispensable sense of belonging, of having a shared experience with others despite religious and cultural differences, clearly blossomed into friendship between Mami and the old woman. "I'm gonna break down her defenses," Mami boasted to her husband. "I wanna be her friend. A good friend. You never know, we may need her help."

Papi was not so sure. "Mucha suerte con eso."

In spite of the language barrier - Mami was constantly grappling with the nuances of impenetrable Bronxese - she found out through her Puerto Rican neighbors that, in the coming months, Mrs. Horowitz's only daughter, the one she escaped with before the Holocaust took her husband and all their relatives, was planning to move into one of the nicer apartments: their apartment. It was the only available unit. Since Papi had signed a month-to-month lease, a more expensive alternative for him but necessary given their haphazard situation, all Mrs. Horowitz had to do was give the family a month's notice to vacate the premises. The daughter had gotten married and wanted to raise her family closer to her mother. It was everything the old woman had dreamed of.

"I've been waiting such a long time for this," Mrs. Horowitz confessed to Mami, grabbing at her hands and holding them gently in her gnarled ones. "I couldn't be happier."

"I happy for you," Mami replied in her most affectionate manner.

Beyond that, Mami did not know what else to say. She was too stunned at the thought of her young family suddenly being dispossessed. Never one to tarry where the needs of her loved ones were concerned, Mami delivered the news to Papi. His reaction was forthright, typical of men of his generation who believed themselves to be the business heads of their household.

"I will give her a hundred bucks," Papi offered, thinking nothing of the consequences of his action. "Maybe more."

"¡Coño, Juan José! That's a month's salary!"

"¡A mi, no me importa!" he insisted."I'll do anything to keep us here. So what if I give the old woman a couple of bucks. What's the big deal? As long as we can stay."

"No sé, I don't think bribing La Señora is the answer."

"No me importa," Papi repeated.

Bronx Boy – A Novel (Part Two): Building Alliances

It may not have bothered Papi's conscience in the slightest, but it became a matter of great concern for Sonny's uncle and Papi's brother-in-law Daví Morales Menéndez, married to Mami's youngest sister, Dinorah Miceny, whom everyone called "Dee" for short. Protocol, that was Uncle Daví's concern. And putting up an appearance.

"These gringos," he argued, "must not and should not be bribed. That's not how they do business in America. Not like in Puerto Rico." Right. Where bribery was considered the norm for getting anything done, that distasteful part of the clandestine economy. Even the picking up and disposing of one's garbage had to be "negotiated" in monetary terms.

"Are you crazy?" Papi countered. "There's no other way around this!"

"She will throw you out on your ass if you do that!" Daví fired back. "What were you thinking?"

"Let her try. We're gonna be thrown out anyway, so what's the difference?"

"No, cuñado, don't do that. It's mala forma, bad form. She will think you are not a good man. You don't want that hanging over your head. A bad reputation with the neighbors is never a good thing."

"You have something better?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I have a... a proposal."

"Oh? What's that?"

"We put our heads together and come up with the money to put some down payment on a home. A house of our own."

"What house?" Papi questioned. This gave him a bit of a shock, coming as it did from his normally tight-fisted brother-in-law. "Where may I ask, in this whole fuckin' town, you gonna find an affordable house?"

"I saw one in the Journal American. Off Prospect Boulevard. A three-family home. With furnished basement, boiler, stove, backyard. You can live on the first floor, we'll live in the basement. Nice? And the third floor, we can rent that out. Maybe to another Puerto Rican family. Whoever we want, but the price is a good one."

"We? What you mean, 'we'?"

"We go into this together, you and me!"

"How much is this 'together' business gonna cost?"

"Twenty thousand," Uncle Daví revealed. He smiled broadly at this last part. "Sound good, no?"

Papi shook his head. "No, not so good. I don't have that kind of money. You know that!"

"Ni yo tampoco, but we can put our resources together and buy it. We can get a loan, a government loan, like a... a mortgage sort of, for the remainder."

"A loan? You're joking, right? How much you got, anyway? I mean, now, at this moment?"

"I got six, maybe seven thousand saved up. You know, I been here longer than you, so I got to save more. And you?"

"I got, maybe, four, five thousand. Give or take."

"Together, that's half the amount, maybe less. Okay, so, all we need to do is borrow ten thousand, más o menos. Can you do that?"

"Me borrow? How about you? It's your idea!"

"I'm not working at the moment," Daví chimed in. "I'm, you know, between jobs."

"Yeah, between jobs. Like the rock and the hard place."

"Look, Papi, you make good money at the lamp factory. You got good credit."

"I got NO credit, zero! What's wrong wid you?"

"Yeah, but you got a clean record, not like me. My credit's not so good. Listen, you borrow the money, the house is yours, in your name, okay? That way, you rent to whoever you like, charge whatever you wanna charge. I'll pay you rent, too... when I get a job."

"Oh, yeah, I can see how this goes. You live rent free, while I work my ass off to pay the freaking loan. If that's the plan you got, I'm not liking it!"

"It's not the way it sounds. This is a good deal, for all of us. We do this, we don't need to worry 'bout rent or looking for another apartment or anything. That old lady, she's gonna want you to move out when her daughter comes here. And that's soon, right? You got no other place else to go, right? So, you buy this house near Prospect Boulevard, your troubles are over."

"Yeah? You think so?"

"Sure. Of course! So, we got a deal?"

Papi did not take long to decide. That same week, both he and Uncle Daví pooled their available resources: they came up with an eleven-thousand-dollar deposit. To cover the nine-thousand-dollar shortfall, Papi and Daví visited a local bank officer, a well-to-do Cubano businessman who sweet-talked them into signing a mortgage by putting the house up as collateral. With Papi's "good credit" (no credit, really, but lots of assurances amid forced backslapping between him, Daví, and the bank's eager loan officer), they struck a deal.


About a week after Papi signed for the loan, Mami ran into Mrs. Cohen, one of the many European Jewish residents in the charming old apartment building at the southernmost tip of Morris Avenue.

"Beatrice, how are you?" Mrs. Cohen asked her. No one in the building could pronounce Mami's given name, Juana Beatriz. To compensate, the tenants called her "Beatrice" for short. That was fine with Mami. It made her feel, well, welcome, even if the feeling wasn't always mutual. Besides, Mami had problems of her own trying to understand all those Jewish surnames. Not to mention their verbal expressions.

"Hi, uh, Mrs. Cone. How you?"

"I'm fine, dearie. Fine. How's the family?"

"We good, getting ready for move."

"Oh, so you haven't heard the news?"

"Uh, news? On the television?"

"No, dearie, here. Right here in our building. Our dear friend and neighbor, Mrs. Horowitz, passed last night."

"Passed? Oh, I no see her go." Mami grew troubled at the thought of the old woman, in her frail condition, having gone anywhere by herself. She should be home, Mami felt, safe and secure, waiting for her daughter to arrive. "Where she go?"

Mrs. Cohen turned pale before saying the rods. "She's at the funeral home, dearie. She died last night of a heart attack. While watching television."

Mami did not understand much of what the Jewish ladies said, in particular Mrs. Cohen, who had a tendency to garble her phrases. But she understood the word "died."

Despite her many faults - among them, a brusqueness and impatience with her fellow neighbors, Mrs. Cohen felt sympathy for Mami. She noticed the change in Mami's facial features after she broke the news of Mrs. Horowitz's sudden passing. Without hesitation, she impulsively took hold of Mami's hand and pressed it close to her bosom, firmly and willingly. For her part, Mami welcomed this sign of affection and comfort. Yes, they were different, Mrs. Cohen and Mami. One Jewish, one Puerto Rican. But they were neighbors. More importantly, they were fellow human beings.

And with that, Mami wept. Genuinely and openly.

Copyright © 2022 by Josmar F. Lopes

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